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Minnesota National Guard
Parents on the front lines

After his mother's deployment to Iraq, 13-year-old Skylar marched alongside recruits during their training sessions at Holman Airfield in St Paul Just as he'd done when his mother trained new National Guard members He wore only military-style clothing to school and had a military haircut Skylar's mother said the clothing, marching with the trainees, and staying in contact with her friends and coworkers helped Skylar feel he was still connected to her So did the American flag in the front yard he and his 10-year-old brother, Michael, raised and lowered every day They saluted it in proper military style, said their grandmother

Pat Hemauer, 60, stepped in to raise her grandsons when her 35-year-old daughter, Army National Guard Sergeant Angela Hemauer, was deployed Pat Hemauer didn't hesitate to pack her belongings and move into her daughter's home "We never even discussed it," she says "I knew what I had to do" She wanted to make the transition as smooth as possible for her grandsons and felt it would be best if they stayed in their own house where they felt safe She knew from experience Her husband, who died in 1992, had been a career Soldier and served in Vietnam

Angela Hemauer, a single parent, served as a member of the first all-female scout team Their mission, to protect supply trucks, put her in front of the convoy as gunner, driver, or commander "Knowing [my kids] were with Mom was a huge relief When you're fighting for your life, you have to concentrate and focus on the job"

Complications for custodial parents

Not all deployed single parents are as fortunate as Sergeant Hemauer Captain Lyndsey MD Kimber, deputy staff judge advocate for the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" division, says noncustodial parents often take advantage of the situation, trying to gain custody rights, saying the deployed Service member has deserted the child or is unable to provide permanency due to his or her military service Kimber said the military's family care plan, which single parents are required to fill out, includes a generic power of attorney but isn't a court document

In an e-mail, Kimber said many Service members mistakenly think it protects them but, "There are so many variables in custody situations"

Kimber wrote, "It is heartbreaking to see Service members come back from a year or more at war only to have lost custody of their children as a result when something could have been done in advance to protect it" She recommends Service members consult an attorney about their particular situations A challenge to the custody arrangement means the case must be heard in civil court, requiring a family court attorney The Servicemember's Civil Relief Act states this type of case can be delayed until the Service member can appear, but Kimber hasn't heard of a case being stayed, even though a court appearance becomes impossible for anyone serving in a combat zone

"Because of the "˜best interest of the child' standard, courts feel they must proceed," Kimber said She can recommend attorneys but said, "Even an experienced family law attorney will need to familiarize themselves with the types of issues and challenges military members face that make them a unique client"

Scattered military families

Sharon Durken, executive director of Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association (MKCA), says it is a big change for grandparents when their lives have to revolve around children's schedules again Jaime Swift, who worked for the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network, which partners with MKCA, said stepping in as surrogate parents means grandparents "give up the role they looked forward to Then they have to find a balance between helping and supporting their own child with letters and phone calls while they are deployed, and balance that with taking care of the children who have been left behind"

Pat Hemauer didn't like her daughter being in harm's way but said, "You have to accept what is It's in God's hands" She kept the boys occupied so they didn't have time to dwell on it They visited the library often, and the boys went fishing and had overnights with their father who lived nearby

Gail Mossman, state youth coordinator for the Minnesota National Guard family program, estimates 17,000 Minnesota children have a parent serving in the National Guard or Reserves but says the number of children affected reaches far beyond that when you take into account younger siblings and other relatives of service members, even neighbor children

Amber Runke, local program specialist for Operation: Military Kids, says that most of Minnesota's deployed Service members are from the National Guard or Reserves who used to be away one weekend a month and two weeks a year "A big issue in Minnesota is that we do not have bases for the families to live on," says Runke "A child may be the only one in their own school in this situation Maybe the only one in the entire community And they are scattered throughout the whole state"

OMK coordinates training for community members such as teachers and school counselors and organizes events and activities to bring these children together so they know they're not the only ones going through this OMK teaches family and community members how to help these young people cope with the stress and separation anxiety of having a loved one in danger Like the day Pat Hemauer's grandchildren learned their mother's deployment had been extended six months "Some of the brightness left their eyes," she said

Home again

Angela Hemauer is home now, planning for the wedding that was postponed when her deployment was extended She and her boys have moved into her fiancé's house A career Service member like her father, she's back in her recruiting office Her mother continues to live in the house that was home during her daughter's deployment But she says since the boys moved out, there is definitely a void, one she hopes to fill by taking some writing classes, something she's always wanted to do

Pat Hemauer might write about her 18 months as an encore parent for her grandsons How Skylar had to have the house "just so," making up for the turmoil the situation put in his life, perhaps She could write about breathing a sigh of relief that her daughter is safe and reunited with her children, even if that sigh is tempered with uncertainty about her own future Reintegration, the final step in the deployment process, affects everyone Even those, like Pat Hemauer, who stayed behind

Andrea Langworthy
Minnesota Parent

Article source: http://www.mnparent.com/

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